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The child is 2 years old.

She is very much interested in story books. She can count perfectly till 10. She can recognise the objects and animals perfectly. She could hold pen in very proper way since she was 1 year old.

Now, 2 days back, she has shown an interest in drawing. She knows how to draw a straight line and a circle, though not very perfectly.

The problem is that she wants to draw animals and objects. She keeps on telling me to draw monkey, baby, snake, table, rat etc. I comply, and yesterday I asked her to draw herself all these things. She complyed. But all she could draw was a tiny scribble or a line. She called her drawing monkey.

She kept on drawing scribbles and kept on calling them different objects - repeatedly, until she got really frustrated and threw the paper and pen.

I could read that she knew what she was drawing was nowhere near what I could draw and that was the reason of her frustration.

She she started again telling me to draw things and refused to draw them herself.

What can I do to teach her to draw the kind of drawings she wants?

Of course 2 years is quite early to learn that kind of stuff but she is utterly interested.

  • You say she was calling her drawings things - were you asking, "What is this?" If so, that can be terribly frustrating for a child because they see that they are not able to communicate. It's much better to say, "Tell me about your drawing" – Wayne Werner Jul 17 '15 at 12:06
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    @WayneWerner I did not ask her anything. I was not even looking at her. She was herself labeling all her scribbles as different objects and telling me about them. – Aquarius_Girl Jul 17 '15 at 12:52
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Children will go through a variety of stages of development with regard to drawing, including a stage of scribbling1:

Kellogg (1967), in her studies of the children's scribbles, has show that children universally proceed through the same series of stages in their early art development. The approximate life cycle of scribbling begins at age two, or even earlier, and extends through ages four and five.

Drawing Development in Children has a good chart with some examples taken from two experts on the subject.
Zero to Three discusses some of the stages in more detail.

The stages discussed on the pages are taught or touched upon in art classes, child development courses, and some types of psychology classes.

Your child would be considered to be in the Scribbling Stage or Placement Stage. What's exciting is that you mentioned she's naming her scribbles now, such as calling one "monkey". Viktor Lowenfield, in the first citation above, says: "Soon they begin to name scribbles, an important milestone in development."

Now, there are ways to encourage her to continue drawing that hopefully don't lead to an outburst of frustration because of physical limitations. Some of these suggestions are from Zero to Three, or any number of websites. Others are my observations as an artist and a father.

Draw regularly, and make it play, not work

Drawing is an exercise, and can easily begin to feel like work. Your child is exercising their body, as they development fine and gross motor control, and they're exercising cognitive processes as they're trying to express themselves in a physical, visual format.

One of the best ways to engage someone in learning and exercise is by making it fun and interactive.

Here are some things we do with my son:

  • I'll take requests, and draw for him anything from "Owls" to "Iron Man", but leave the image incomplete so he can fill in the details. He really enjoys adding eyes, mouths, and noses (even if I haven't finished yet!)
  • We'll trace each other's hands. Tracing hands is fun! This activity takes off some of the cognitive burden of trying to translate a mental thought into a tangible image. The other day, I traced his hand and then drew and colored on top of it to turn it into an Iron Man hand! My wife often makes hand/feet into animals or objects (such as tractors).
  • We'll make outlines for him to trace.
  • We'll give him other things to put on the paper, and he'll incorporate those into his drawing. For instance, stickers or sticky googly eyes.
  • We'll draw something together and discuss what parts it needs. For instance, if we're drawing a dog, I'll ask what part we should draw. If he says, "Tail!" then we'll draw a tail, even if it comes from the dog's forehead. I'll also make suggestions, such as "This dog should have a tongue, where should we put it?" This activity narrows down the purpose of each stroke: he doesn't have to conceptualize an entire dog, but only a part at a time. Then, each part is placed with the clear intent of being that part, which in our experience leads to more satisfaction on his part that he did it right (in his own eyes).

Also remember to realize your child's limitations. Even fun activities stop being fun after a time, and the brain and body will need a break. It'll be better to switch gears and provide the break as soon as you sense your child becoming frustrated.

Use engaging, positive communication

One of the most frustrating things for any artist in when you draw a specific object or concept, and then someone comes along and asks if it's a different object. It unintentionally sends the message of, "You must not have done it right, since I couldn't recognize it."

I think even toddlers can feel some of this frustration. Here's how I'd mitigate it:

  • Ask your child what they're going to draw before or during the actual drawing
  • Comment on or compliment your child on what they're doing, not necessarily what they're making. Zero To Three had some great examples of this:

    Take a few moments to observe your child’s work: Look at the lines you are making—there are so many of them! Or, That picture is really interesting. Those colors make me feel happy. Or, I see you are working really hard on your drawing. Or just: Tell me about your picture. Then see if your child is interested in sharing more.

  • Refer to the drawing as whatever your child calls it. If it's a monkey to her, then call it a monkey. This reinforces that their attempt at drawing an object was successful, and encourages future attempts.

  • Focus on the process, not the product2. Although using outlines and templates, as mentioned above, can still be fun for toddlers, you'll want to balance it with other activities where they have more control.

    Remember, toddlers are more interested in the process of a work. It is adults who feel a need for a cute product to send home for display. Toddlers are delight with their scribbles and should be urged toward autonomy in their designs, not restricted to an adult's stenciled shape.

Use a variety of materials

Even fat, toddler-oriented crayons and markers require grip and dexterity that can be difficult for young children. There are 35 muscles between the forearm and hand, and quite a few of them are necessary for controlling those implements. Some of these muscles are very small and can tire quickly (as I'm personally relearning in physical therapy exercises for my hand/arms).

Crayons, in my opinion, are actually one of the hardest child-oriented mediums to use. The wax is hard, requiring firm pressure to make marks. The inclusion of this downward pressure can make it harder for the other muscles to stabilize the other motions of the arm. It also requires gripping the crayon in a somewhat upright position.

Paint is a great option for improving the drawing experience. While a child's pencil stroke is often "scribbly" or erratic, a paint stroke is generally smooth.

  • Finger painting can require less fine motor control, or require the activation of less muscles at a time.
  • Washable paints with a brush don't require downward pressure to make a stroke. The paint will make a clear, vivid mark so long as it touches the paper. This means your child only needs to focus on making the motions they want, and not focusing on whether those motions will have a visible effect.
  • There are a lot of resources online about how to make stamps or paint brushes on the cheap. These alternative tools definitely step up the fun-factor of painting.
  • Paints in general tend to allow for brighter colors, which are more visually appealing to children. They also allow for mixing or blending of colors, which is hard to do with crayons or colored pencils. Intentionally mixing two colors, such as red and blue to make purple, is likely not a skill that'll develop for a while, but seeing the colors change as they interact is exciting.

I would also recommend pastels, Conté crayons, artist chalks, and possibly compressed charcoal (as opposed to willow or vine charcoal will likely be pulverized by their grip). I would remove the wrappers on these, if any, so that flat strokes are possible and upright grips aren't necessary. These media also provide rich strokes without much pressure, although they do make for messier hands.

You can also get woodless graphite pencils, or sticks of graphite, that can be easier for small hands to use compared to the fine points of wood or mechanical pencils.

You can also incorporate other mixed media, such as adhesive-backed objects or things that need to be glued and taped on. These things won't necessarily help develop specific drawing skills, but they do aid with developing expression. They can also provide a fun canvas for drawings to be a part of.

Realize that drawing is a highly skillful activity

As the stages of child drawing development show, learning to draw is an ongoing process. It's not realistic to be able to teach a toddler to draw complex objects. However, toddlers can be quite successful with learning to draw certain shapes (circles, especially!) or a selection of letters (and not just "O"!).

Each stage of development lays the foundation for the next stage1. So even if your child can't draw a recognizable animal, they're still learning to draw.

Kellogg and O'Dell (1967) have described scribbles as the building blocks of children's art.

Early on drawing skills involve the development of fine and gross motor control to a larger extent than many later stages. But without this control, even an adult will have difficultly drawing. Supposing you're not ambidextrous, attempt drawing with your offhand! You'll see how important muscle control is.

So, be mindful that any progress or practice is a success! At this age, if you can get your daughter to sit down and draw at all, then it's an accomplishment and your child is learning. Keep it up!


1: Francks, O. (1979). Scribbles? Yes, They Are Art! Young Children, 34(5), 14-22.
2: Fucigna, C. (1982). Art for Toddlers: A Developmental Approach. Young Children, 37(3), 45-51.

  • Very nice! Good suggestions, and I really like the links. – anongoodnurse Jul 16 '15 at 21:05
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    @anongoodnurse I feel like I could fill up quite a bit of space with even more references. There are a lot of textbooks, research materials & opinions on the subject of teaching art to young children, but I'm having trouble accessing such reference material in a format that I can link/share. – user11394 Jul 16 '15 at 21:26
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    If only you could, @CreationEdge. Thanks for the nice answer. – Null Head Jul 16 '15 at 21:47
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You teach a toddler to draw pretty much the same way you teach any activity.

  • Giving her the opportunity and tools to practice (making paper, crayons, chalk, etc. readily available)
  • Model the activity (draw with her, particularly draw things that are close to her level; not as a "lesson", just doing it next to her so she sees you drawing also, and can learn from just watching you)
  • Find ways to tie the activity to her other interests (For example, my son loves trains, so he first learned to draw a train track)

Few toddlers at 2 will have the hand-eye coordination to do much more than scribble, I know my 2 year old is what I'd consider "good" at coloring and it's just a bunch of scribbles on the picture (but it shows good contact and is mostly centered over the picture!). But that's how you get her started, by giving her the chance to do it and showing her how. Kids at that age pick up a lot just by watching and copying/imitating.

In your specific case, she wants you to draw things - do so! Don't worry that you're doing most of the work. She's learning from watching you do it, and if you manage to make it more fun for her than frustrating then you'll be doing her a huge favor. I would mix different levels of drawing - sometimes draw something that's close to a child's level of talent (Stick figures) but if you can draw things that are better, do so also - both as she may pick up some more advanced techniques, and so she can see what her eventual abilities may lead her to.

And as far as calling them different things - that's just creativity, and something that should be encouraged. "Daddy, here's my train!" (scribble sort of vaguely circular) "Nice train, E, I like the smokestack".

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If I were teaching my 2 year old to draw, I would start with stick figures. This is a 4 year old's drawing of a person:

enter image description here

The head will be the main thing, The rest, pretty unsophisticated. But then they will eventually start to have fingers and toes and more hair.

To draw animals may be out of her league, but is she insists, draw a body like a circle, another circle for the head, and the appropriate number of limbs. Don't be surprised if it takes her years to draw this level of sophitication:

enter image description here

You can work and work and work with her, but likely it won't help. I remember asking my mother to teach me to draw a cute simple bunny. Hers looked so easy. I never learned, though I have very distinct memories of trying.

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    Or, in short, you can't really teach her yet. – Stephie Jul 16 '15 at 11:06
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    Hey, how'd you get a hold of my drawings from yesterday... – Joe Jul 16 '15 at 14:50
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    @Joe You let the restraining order expire. – Adam Davis Jul 16 '15 at 15:35
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    When my nephew was in an early stage, it was very nice that I understood his drawings, unlike other adults. It was a stage of representing every feature with a circle or very crude shape: you'll recognise the every-finger-on-person. But teeth on an alegator... it is enlightening to know what he notices and figure out the meaning topologicly, what is attached to what, with no realistic shapes. It's a diagram! – JDługosz Jul 17 '15 at 0:07
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She won't produce anything photo-realistic, but if you break it down step by step, she should be able to produce something she is happier with. For instance for a mouse, start by having her draw a circle --tell her that is the body. Then draw a straight line at the back --that is the tail. Then two more circles --those are ears. Then two dots --those are eyes. It won't look much like a mouse, but it will be enough that she can feel good about drawing.

The key at that age is that kids are actually capable of a lot, but they don't have the ability to make the common sense connections between things, so everything needs to be broken down into very small steps. If you search, there are actually a large number of books that teach drawing in this style for very young children (you might also look up the book "Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain").

Also, make sure you praise whatever she produces, even if it doesn't look anything like the example. Remember, you're trying to help her be happy with her own creativity. You're not trying to produce the next Picasso.

  • This is exactly the approach I took with one of my daughters who is interested in drawing. She would ask, "How do I draw X?", so I would break it down like you see in most of the books. I'd even label the steps 1-N. It does take a while for each thing, but now at age 9 she draws rather well. – Wayne Werner Jul 17 '15 at 12:10
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Drawing's difficult. If you told me to draw a person I'd probably be on a typical 8 or 9 yo level... ;) My daughter (20m) often asks us to draw something and we do it, while she can't draw anything ... recognizable... yet. She does enjoy it anyway.

You can't really teach a toddler to draw. There's a lot of skills involved, including world perception, which is ... different for a toddler.

If you expect your child to draw something particular pretty well at this age, don't. Just make sure that you and she have fun drawing, and the skill will come in time. Encourage her and praise her "work" if necessary.

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